Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

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This compendium includes significant criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court & N.C. appellate courts, Nov. 2008 – Present. Selected 4th Circuit cases also are included.

Jessica Smith prepared case summaries Nov. 2008-June 4, 2019; later summaries are prepared by other School staff.

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E.g., 11/27/2021
E.g., 11/27/2021

In this case involving a welfare check that resulted in officers entering petitioner Caniglia’s home without a warrant and seizing his firearms, the court held that its decision in Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433 (1973) upholding as reasonable a “caretaking search” of an impounded vehicle for a firearm did not create a standalone doctrine that justifies warrantless searches and seizures in the home.  Following an argument where Caniglia put a gun on a table and told his wife to shoot him, officers accompanied his wife to their shared home to assess his welfare.  During that visit, Caniglia agreed to be taken for a mental health evaluation and officers entered his home to confiscate two pistols against his expressly stated wishes.  Caniglia later sued, alleging that officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by the warrantless seizure of him and his pistols. The First Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the officers solely on the basis that the seizures fell within a freestanding “community caretaking exception” to the warrant requirement it extrapolated from Cady.  Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Thomas noted Cady’s “unmistakable distinction between vehicles and homes” and the Court’s repeated refusal to expand the scope of exceptions to the warrant requirement in the context of searches and seizures in homes.  Finding that the First Circuit’s recognition of a freestanding community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement went “beyond anything this Court has recognized,” the Court vacated the judgment below and remanded for further proceedings.

Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justice Breyer, concurred by noting that the Court’s opinion was not contrary to the exigent circumstances doctrine.  Justice Alito concurred by noting his view that the Court correctly had rejected a special Fourth Amendment rule for a broad category of cases involving “community caretaking” but had not settled difficult questions about the parameters of all searches and seizures conducted for “non-law-enforcement purposes.”  Justice Kavanaugh concurred and elaborated on his observations of the applicability of the exigent circumstances doctrine in cases where officers enter homes without warrants to assist persons in need of aid.

Because an officer violated the defendant’s fourth amendment rights by searching the curtilage of his home without a warrant, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. The officer saw a vehicle with its doors open at the back of a 150-yard driveway leading to the defendant’s home. Concerned that the vehicle might be part of a break-in or home invasion, the officer drove down the driveway, ran the vehicle’s tags, checked—but did not knock—on the front door, checked the windows and doors of the home for signs of forced entry, “cleared” the sides of the house, and then went through a closed gate in a chain-link fence enclosing the home’s backyard and approached the storm door at the back of the house. As the officer approached the door, which was not visible from the street, he smelled marijuana, which led to the defendant’s arrest for drug charges. At the suppression hearing, the State relied on two exceptions to the warrant requirement to justify the officer’s search of the curtilage: the knock and talk doctrine and the community caretaker doctrine. The court found however that neither exception applies. First, the officer did more than nearly knock and talk. Specifically, he ran a license plate not visible from the street, walked around the house examining windows and searching for signs of a break-in, and went first to the front door without knocking and then to a rear door not visible from the street and located behind a closed gate. “These actions went beyond what the U.S. Supreme Court has held are the permissible actions during a knock and talk.” Likewise, the community caretaker doctrine does not support the officer’s action. “The presence of a vehicle in one’s driveway with its doors open is not the sort of emergency that justifies the community caretaker exception.” The court also noted that because the fourth amendment’s protections “are at their very strongest within one’s home,” the public need justifying the community caretaker exception “must be particularly strong to justify a warrantless search of a home.”

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